November 6, 2009 9:14:00 AM
ABERDEEN -- Fred Ward and Channing Ward don''t want people to forget about the Aberdeen High School football team.
At the beginning of the season, the Bulldogs were the talk of the area and the state. Many people thought they were going to run the table and secure an easy road to the Class 3A state title game in Jackson.
An injury to starting quarterback Aaron Andrews played a role in an opening-season loss to Class 6A Columbus and a loss to Class 4A Pontotoc in week three, but the Bulldogs have regrouped and are ready to make their playoff run.
Aberdeen will kick off that run at 7 tonight when it plays host to Independence in the opening round of the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 3A North Half state playoffs.
The Bulldogs (9-2, 5-0) won their final eight games of the regular season to earn the top seed out of Region 2, District 1. They will play an Independence team that is 5-6 and went 2-3 in its district. The Wildcats, who beat Ruleville Central last week, lost to East Side, Charleston, and Palmer and defeated Holly Springs in their other Region 3, District 2 games.
Aberdeen High coach Chris Duncan feels his team is ready to begin a playoff run. He said the Wards have played key roles on the defensive line and have helped set the tone since the middle of the season.
"They are great defensive players," Duncan said. "They have been able to control the line of scrimmage. When you can put three guys in the box and control the line of scrimmage it is very helpful. They have been hard to block all year."
Fred Ward said his resurgence is due in part to conversations he had with the team''s coaches in the middle of the season. He said the coaches were straight up with him and told him they didn''t think he was playing to his potential.
Ward, who also plays on the offensive line, said he started to come to practice a little earlier, to work harder at practice, and to stay later after practice to reach that level.
"I knew I wasn''t playing to my potential," said Fred Ward, who is 6-foot-4, 250 pounds. "My actions were telling I wasn''t playing to my potential."
These days, Ward said he feels "great" and is playing a bigger role as leader on the team. He said he showed that leadership ability Oct. 9 when Aberdeen traveled to Water Valley. He said the offensive line was struggling early in the game and that he encouraged his teammates to raise their level of play.
Duncan said Ward''s play the last half of the season shows he is one of the team''s best players.
"He has gotten better each week," Duncan said. "He is doing things we knew he could do all along. He just wasn''t putting out the effort we thought he could. With him playing along side Channing it has really helped us defensively."
Channing Ward, a 6-3, 230-pounder, has 4.6 seed in the 40-yard dash. He uses that speed to terrorize offensive linemen and to dominate the line of scrimmage.
"He is one of those guys who is like a freak of nature, him and Fred both, to be so big and to be able to move so well," Duncan said. "Both of them have the ability to control a ballgame. If we can continue to do that, we will have a good chance to win."
Channing Ward feels the Bulldogs have had a "good season." He said "stupid mistakes" have killed the team and that the Bulldogs will have to eliminate them if they want to realize their preseason goal and advance to the Class 3A state title game in Jackson.
The latest state rankings suggest that not many people believe Aberdeen will be able to get there. The Bulldogs started the season ranked in the top five of many of the state''s polls. Losses to Columbus and Pontotoc have seemingly erased Aberdeen from the minds of many, but that doesn''t bother Fred or Channing Ward because they both still believe in the Bulldogs.
"We may have to prove a lot to show people we are still here," Channing Ward said. "I didn''t know they were going to drop us like that, but we haven''t lost to any Class 3A teams."
Said Fred Ward, "I see it in everybody''s eyes. They are hungry for the playoffs this week.
"We were on top and we lost a game and we went down and people thought we were weak. Now we have to show them we are about business now."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.